By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
Queensbury native Mary Ryther is betting that people who love Halloween just can’t get enough of it.
After working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, she’s bought six-and-half acres in Fort Ann and is building a Halloween “haunt” due to open on Sept. 30 and operate weekends through Halloween this year and future years.
“I call it Boo Town by day, Ghoul Town by night,” says Ms. Ryther.
She said Boo Town is geared to kids 12 and under during the day. It will feature a scavenger hunt, haystack climb, pumpkin decorating, face painting, a food truck, games and more.
At night, when the sun is down, it becomes a “walkthrough haunt,” said Ms. Ryther. “It’s basically different scenes” depicted by actors. Right now, she said she has about 15 actors on staff. She hopes to get that number up to 30 with help from schools and booster clubs.
Guests walk through a town that Ms. Ryther says she created from materials from Home Depot.
“This year has been a lot on my own, just with family helping me build things. But next year…I’ll have a lot more time to hit up more theater companies, get more ideas…And involve more of the community. I really want it to have a community feel,” Ms. Ryther said.
What happens at Ghoul Town
In Ghoul Town, first, “something’s gonna get you.” Then, a cemetery, “3D Circus Maze” with 3D glasses, clowns, and an escape from zombie actors — who guests will shoot with “jelly ball blasters.”
“As soon as you hit a zombie, he’s going to go down or he’s going to get angry. They don’t like to be hit by jelly balls!” Ms. Ryther said.
She said there’s a 3D maze “I think is really neat. I think people are going to enjoy that.”
She also hopes to have a headless horseman — “actually on a horse.”
How scary is it at night? “It’s not gory. And it’s not super, super scary. It’s enough to give you chills. As far as kids going through, I leave it up to the parents,” Ms. Ryther said.
“If they get to a scene and they get scared, all they have to do is say ‘Happy Halloween.’ And the monsters will just wave to them.”
“It’s surrounded by the Vermont mountains out there, it’s going to be gorgeous when the leaves change,” she said.
‘Qby. girl followed dreams to LA’
As for her personal story, Ms. Ryther says, “I’m a Queensbury girl and followed my dreams to Los Angeles and worked in the industry out there…for 30 years and wanted to make a change.”
She said the idea for Boo Town was hatched when close friends and their three children moved to Florida.
“I’m Aunt Mary to these kids…I said I gotta get my mind off them leaving. And I’ve always loved Halloween,” said Ms. Ryther.
In Burbank, near L.A., she ran a day care center where she would create a “great big maze” for the kids.
So she decided to find some land “back home,” because “six and half acres in LA is what, $3-million?” she laughed.
Ms. Ryther has already put in some serious planning and research. In March she attended Transworld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis.
“They have anything from fake blood to $20,000 animatronics,” she said.
“I got some really cool things there — like the facade was made in Pittsburgh and it’s vacuum formed and it looks like brick.” Also “tombstones that move,” “a lot of the animatronics,” and “walls that look like skulls are coming out at you.
“And the cemetery is really, really cool.”
“I didn’t know that there was an actual conference for people that haunt,” Ms. Ryther said. She uses the verb “haunt” to describe her line of work.
At another conference, she says she was told, “If you build it, they will come — maybe.” She said the advice came “from this married couple that have a very successful haunt in Florida,” but they started with just six guests on its opening night.
“Now they’re really successful. And she gave a lot of advice on what to do, how to get your employees into it and motivated.”
Ms. Ryther thinks Halloween is unique. “If you like Halloween, you’re gonna go up to West Mountain and you’re gonna go to the castle in Vermont, you’re gonna go to Bootown,” she said.
“We don’t really compete with each other. If you like Halloween, you’re gonna hit everything you can.”
Went to ACC & Oswego
Ms. Ryther’s entertainment career began as an NBC page in New York City after she graduated from Adirondack Community College and SUNY Oswego.
She moved to Los Angeles, and eventually ended up at Fox Sports and Fox Entertainment.
She said her love for kids and theater spurred her to create a show for children’s television “called Dream Time with Nanny…We had a whole pilot presentation with actors and music and animation, but we couldn’t get it sold.”
Ms. Ryther says, “And I turned to a friend of mine, I said, you know, I still want to get back to doing something with kids. And I opened up a little day care out of a house in Burbank. And most of my parents work in the industry, so I always understand when they’re running late.”
She said she will return to Los Angeles in November to run the day care, then come back to Fort Ann each June.
“The cold — just no,” she laughed. “I’m so spoiled now I can’t handle the winter here anymore.”
Going forward, she said she is “already talking to a lot of the local schools — Hudson Falls, Fort Edward, and Fort Ann, they all want to be part of it.” She’s working with their “theater people,” too.
Schedule & pricing
Starting Friday, Sept. 30, the nighttime Ghoul Town will be open 6 to 11 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Its final day will be Halloween Monday.
Boo Town will be open Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Boo Town admission is $12, including face painting, pumpkin picking, and more. The nighttime haunt is $25.
It’s located at 11225 Route 149 in Fort Ann. Info: www.bootown.net
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